In Anne Tyler’s novel Digging to America there’s a humorous scene in which a mother plans an elaborate scheme for separating her 3-year-old daughter from her pacifier.
She invites all the mothers and young children she knows to a party, the climax of which will be the releasing of a clutch of helium balloons with binkies (pacifiers) attached to them. On her daughter’s balloon is the pacifier, of course, which will dramatically sail up into the heavens and, the mother is confident, thus be out of her daughter’s life forever.
The party goes as planned, with the little girl willingly releasing her balloon and watching her beloved binkie fly away, and the mother satisfied that her scheme has worked. But after the balloons and binkies are out of sight and the guests are beginning to leave, the mother discovers her daughter happily sucking on a pacifier that she has swiped from the mouth of one of the visiting babies.
In some circles, providing a baby with a binkie is a given. Binkies are better than thumbs, some argue, because they can – with difficulty sometimes, granted – be taken away, while thumbs come attached. Binkies are often among the gifts at baby showers. Many parents bring their babies home from the hospital with binkies in their mouths (the baby’s mouth, not the parents’).
Children riding around in strollers are often seen sucking away on binkies attached to them by a handy clip-on gadget that prevents the binkie from falling on the sidewalk if dropped. Binkie-shaped candies are sold to older children who presumably have outgrown their addiction but still remember their binkie days fondly.
Others frown upon binkie use, because children can become dependent on them, and also because some are offended by the mindless expression on the face of a child who’s sucking on one. In England, in fact, the common slang term for pacifier is dummy.
Some child development specialists argue that children should learn to soothe themselves; in their opinion thumbs are preferable to pacifiers because the thumb is in the child’s control, while the binkie is – at least initially – in the adults’. And children who are learning to talk are rendered speechless, or all but impossible to understand, if they have binkies in their mouths.
The Grandmothers take the middle ground. Here are their rules-of-thumb (please pardon the expression) for binkie use:
- If your baby is brand new to the planet, don’t stick a pacifier in his/her mouth right away. Maybe you’re one of the lucky parents whose newborn goes to sleep easily and when awake stares at the marvels around him, quite content. This kid doesn’t need a pacifier, so don’t give him one.
- If your baby is a screamer, and there are such, and you have fed her and changed her and cuddled her and she’s still screaming, by all means try popping a pacifier into her mouth and see if that helps. Just make it your last resort, not your first. Give her a chance to soothe herself to sleep. But better to risk turning your baby into a binkie addict than have a nervous breakdown yourself. Your baby needs a parent who is calm and relatively free of stress.
- If your baby has become accustomed to binkie use but is starting to walk, try leaving the pacifier in his crib as he begins his day of exploring and investigating. He will soon lose interest in the binkie as he finds much more interesting things to do and starts finding pleasure in other sensory experiences.
- If your little one is no longer a baby – has become 2 or 3 or even 4 but still wants her binkie with her wherever she goes, and you would like to get it away from her but you don’t want to go the helium balloon route – avoid getting into a struggle with her over it. Talk to her about becoming a big kid, about big kids getting to do big-kid things and how as a rule big kids don’t run around playing soccer (or whatever) with binkies in their mouths. Tell her that you can’t understand her when her mouth is full of binkie.
- Encourage her to make her binkie a bedtime-only thing that stays under her pillow all day. But don’t force the issue, even with clever stratagems like suggesting that she mail it to her new baby cousin. Don’t give it that much importance. Don’t even try to protect her from occasional derogatory comments and teasing from other children and adults. Just wait for her interest in her binkie to gradually fade.
There are a few exceptions to rule #3. If you are in a situation where you would prefer it if your child did not scream and disturb everyone around you and there’s no chance of carrying him away from the scene – if you are flying to Singapore in a 747, for example – have a binkie handy in your carry-on.